While Buddhist majority Leh district of Ladakh burst into celebrations as the State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Satya Pal Malik met their longstanding demand by sanctioning the first ever Cluster University for the area, it has triggered anger in neighbouring Shia majority Kargil district that observed a complete shutdown against the decision of the SAC.

A large number of people, including youth and the elderly, turned out on the streets of Kargil last week demanding setting up of a university in the area. All private and government offices remained virtually shut as the local staff participated in the procession.

People carrying placards accused the Governor of having sanctioned the Cluster University for Leh “without taking into account the ground reality. Kargil has more colleges and students’ strength than Leh district,” they claimed.

The SAC had earlier this month approved the Jammu and Kashmir University of Ladakh Bill, 2018, paving the way for establishing a Cluster University for the entire Ladakh area.

The SAC observed that the Cluster University will get Rs 65 crore from Government of India from the next academic session as an initial grant. The university will fulfil a long-standing demand of the people of Ladakh region. The already functioning 3 Degree Colleges of Kargil district will be affiliated to the Cluster University of Ladakh with Degree College Leh constituting the lead college. All the new colleges to be set up in future in Ladakh region are envisaged to be affiliated with the Cluster University of Ladakh.

There are five-degree colleges functioning in Ladakh region, one each at Leh and Nobra of Leh district and one each at Kargil, Zanskar and Drass of Kargil district. All the five colleges are currently affiliated to the University of Kashmir.

The entire Ladakh region with a population of 2.75 lakh as per 2011 census has a student population of 40%. As per rough estimates, around 90% of students from Ladakh have enrolled in different universities across the country for studies and the remaining 10% study in Ladakh.

Public representatives and students of Ladakh region have been persistently demanding setting up of a university in Ladakh region so that local students can have easy access to higher educational opportunities in their own area for which they otherwise have to migrate to other parts of the state/country thereby causing immense economic, social, psychological and other hardships to them besides sending out local talent from the region.

The SAC observed that establishment of a Cluster University in Ladakh will provide equitable opportunity to the students of Ladakh region to pursue various undergraduate, post-graduate and diploma courses in different streams and subjects through regular mode without any displacement from their region. It will reduce the responsibility of other universities in the state and country and enable colleges of Ladakh region to enhance their capacities to become dynamic, demand-driven and quality conscious.

With its unique topography and difficult terrain, in addition to introduction of fundamental courses, the University in Ladakh will offer specialised subjects in the domain of Mountain Studies, Environmental Studies, Climate Change Studies, Glacier and Water Studies, Geology, Sustainability and other fields of science, which can add value and meaning to the higher study programme for the regional students, the SAC observed, while sanctioning the first ever university in Ladakh.

The agitation for setting up the university in Kargil is being spearheaded by the Islamia School and Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust on whose call a complete shutdown was observed in the area.

A joint meeting of all religious organisations, political and social groups took place under the chairmanship of Chief Executive Councillor (CEC) of the Kargil Autonomous Hill Development Council, Feroz Khan, to accelerate the agitation if their demand was not met. “There is a strong resentment among people against the Governor’s announcement of opening of headquarters of Cluster University in Leh town. All the stakeholders were not consulted prior to making the announcement and the decision is far away from ground realities,” Khan said.

Khan demanded a full-fledged Central University for Ladakh with its headquarters in Kargil.

The Students Educational Movement of Kargil (SEMOK) has also demanded that the university should be located in Kargil. They pointed out that their study was adversely affected as the Ladakh area was attached with the University of Kashmir and as a result of continued violence in Srinagar they were also suffering as their 3-year course gets stretched to 5 years.

Political parties have also jumped in to support the demand of the people of Kargil where they visualise their vote bank. A former education minister belonging to PDP, Naeem Akhtar, said the PDP welcomes the decision of creating a new University in Leh but Kargil should not be rendered as a left out entity during the process. He added that PDP supports the demand of people of Kargil for a full-fledged university in that district also.

Former chief minister and National Conference leader, Omar Abdullah extended “whole hearted support” to the demand of the people of Kargil.

Establishing any institution in J&K is a ticklish issue. The Central University simultaneously established with other states in Jammu in 2009 was in a surprise move overnight shifted to Srinagar thereby triggering an agitation here as a result of which the Centre was left with no alternative but to establish a separate Central University in Jammu in August 2011.

The central and the state government had to undertake an exhaustive exercise to finalise the location of AIIMS, IIM, IIT and various other institutions in the state.